Traffic Outlaws

If any of you have driven in Delhi/NCR recently, you would have probably noticed that there is a lot more lawlessness on our streets than a couple of years ago. Maybe I’m just noticing it as I’m driving more since I’ve been back. But either way, it is very noticeable.

I’m not talking about the usual offenses such as breaking a red light when there is little traffic, I’m talking about more dangerous acts such as driving with full beam at high speeds on the wrong side of the road. Yes, one might argue an offense is an offense, no matter how big or small.

The question I ask myself every time I see someone approaching me head-on is, “Why!? Why do they do this?”.

And quite frankly, the answer is simple – because they can.

Yup, they can! In fact they can do what they want and get away with it. Break a light, sure. Hit and run, sure. Drive on the wrong side, sure.

And why is it I say that they can, I have 3 reasons.

  • Low Cop to Citizens Ratio: India has one of the lowest police to citizens ratio in the world. In 2010, the number of policemen per 100,000 people in India was 130 whereas the UN norm was 220. I don’t know if this includes traffic police, but I believe that can’t be any better. Given the size of Indian cities (eg. Delhi), you can drive around for miles without encountering cops and it’s not like there are any traffic cameras to tackle the manpower shortage. So, this do as you wish attitude prevails because no one is there to stop traffic violatons.
  • Poorly paid authorities: Take a look at this pay scale for authorities (I couldn’t find a newer version online unfortunately). Perhaps pay increases and promotions aren’t as transparent as in corporate jobs (yeah right!). But jokes aside, it is not the best paying job and I’ll be honest here, I was at an ADG pay scale two years ago before my MBA. So, when a cop stops a flashy car for a violation, he rather pocket the money for himself (which is completely wrong) than give it to the state. Also, you, as an offender, don’t mind because you don’t get booked or ticketed. It’s a WIN-WIN! So, the next time you break the law and are unfortunate enough to get caught, you know there is an easy way out.
  • Poorly planned roads: There are no plans for roads, they are completely ad-hoc. A few years ago the traffic situation outside my building in Cyber City got so bad, that the authorities decided to make it a one-way street. Thanks to that, I now have to 2 km diversion to get home. The traffic hasn’t stopped, just shifted behind the building and gotten worse. The 8 one-way lanes now converge into a new 3 lane street causing a bottleneck and terrible jams. It’s a driver’s nightmare and not one which you would like to have after a grueling day at work. Sometimes people get so frustrated that they find it easier to take shortest route out, which may include making a one-way into a multi-way road. I’ve seen cops stand and look at them helplessly.

Now then, combine these 3 reasons and you’ll see why people do what they do on the roads. But, then I ask, what about your own conscience? Doesn’t that stop you from doing wrong things? People complain about the lawlessness in the city, yet don’t hesitate to break the occasional traffic signal or drive above the speed limit (yes we do have speed limits).

I know it’s hard to do the right thing especially when its so easy to get away or justify doing the wrong thing. I guess I just want to know, where do you draw the line if you knew you could get away with murder?

Devesh Sahai

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